Friday 6 January 2012
Persistence Has Paid: Animal Advocates Gain Formal Protection for African Antelopes Trophy-Hunted in U.S.
Washington, DC ““ This week marks the conclusion of a long trek to written-in-stone protection for North African antelopes living in zoos or on Texas ranches.
Publication of a new rule in the U.S. Federal Register on January 5, 2012 is the culmination of more than one decade of effort by Friends of Animals to protect scimitar-horned oryx, addax, and dama gazelles. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will now protect all members of these three species as “endangered”-including those bred on U.S. soil and sold for sport-hunting.
These antelope communities are critically endangered in their home territories in northern Africa, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. The addax and dama gazelles are nearly wiped out, and scimitar-horned oryx would be virtually extinct, if not for Friends of Animals’ work in protecting them and reintroducing them into Senegal. Yet most of these antelopes live on Texas hunting ranches, where they are bred.
As early as 1991, the scimitar-horned oryx, dama gazelle, and addax were proposed for ESA protection. Friends of Animals went to the desert of Senegal, Africa, to help the rare antelopes regain footing in their own habitat. In addition, Friends of Animals, with the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, sued the federal government to list the these antelopes as “endangered” under U.S. law. In September 2005, the FWS did list the three species as “endangered,” noting that desertification, human encroachment, ranching, regional military activity, and hunting imperil these antelopes.
Yet on the same date, the FWS published an exception to the rule removing take and transport prohibitions from the very animals that the United States has the strongest power to protect-those kept by U.S. enterprises. For live antelopes, embryos, gametes, and “sport-hunted trophies” of these three species on U.S. soil, the blanket exemption authorized killing, commercial transport, and interstate or foreign commerce.
All three groups of antelope have well-established listings in the strict Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, prohibiting international travel to hunt them. Shooting them in Africa would be illegal poaching. Yet under the exemption, killing them in the U.S. was legal.
Lee Hall, Vice President of Legal Affairs for Friends of Animals, lauded the new rule, saying, “At last these antelopes are free from being handled and killed for kicks. This protects three communities of North African antelopes from being transplanted to or bred into exploitive captivity, and stalked because of their remarkably graceful horns.”
With the blanket exemption in place, a lucrative industry in hunting “popular exotics” and supplying feed, fencing, and taxidermy has continued to operate. FWS accepted arguments that hunting is good for antelope because it provides an incentive for maintaining their populations.
Hall continued, “The publication of this rule ends the preposterous legal fiction that canned hunting ranches protect and propagate endangered species when in reality they are pimping members of species just barely hanging onto life on Earth-in effect, exploiting the ‘endangered’ classification for profit.”
Advocates Strike Back
A court case brought by Friends of Animals and WildEarth Guardians in 2009 challenged the loophole and secured a court order finding that the exemption violated Section 10 of the ESA by letting canned hunting ranches “harm, harass, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect” members of endangered species. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. called blanket exemptions “anathema” to the ESA, and in June 2009 remanded the rule to the FWS for the appropriate change. Change has now come.
“This success is a step forward for all endangered species,” said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “The ESA is a powerful law, but it cannot work as it was meant to if exemptions are freely granted for any species hunters might want to hang on their wall.”
The pro-hunting Safari Club, represented by house attorney Anna Seidman, wants to set aside the new rule and give tourists the legal prerogative to pay $3,500 or more to kill the 2,000-plus captive antelopes still alive on U.S. ranches.
Friends of Animals’ Lee Hall counters: “While the Endangered Species Act does allow, for example, some movement of listed animals for science-related reasons or to enhance the propagation or survival of the animals-contingent on a public feedback process for each good-faith application-it is not meant to authorize sport-hunting.”
“Hunting these antelopes is no way to save them or treat them with dignity; nor is it a dignified interpretation of the Endangered Species Act,” Hall stated.
Friends of Animals, an animal advocacy organization founded in 1957, advocates for the rights of animals to live free, on their own terms: www.FriendsofAnimals.org
WildEarth Guardians works to protect and restore wildlife, wild places and wild rivers in the American West: www.wildearthguardians.org